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A new start needed (Sept 26 editorial)

It appears that communication has broken out between PMA and IDEA after a couple of years in which the industry would have benefitted if they had worked more cooperatively.
It also appears as if there’s a reasonable possibility that organisation of the annual show will swing back to PMA, or at least be shared by the two groups.

It’s been a weird few years. It was only about five years ago that PMA co-operatively assumed organisation of the show from PICA, and things seemed to be travelling along well for a while. Then during Dave Marshal l’s extended reign a group within PICA agitated against the PMA’s management of the thing (‘they let non-authorised exhibitors in’, ‘they are going broke and we’ll be saddled with PMA US debt – we’ll all be rooned!’) and, a little less co-operatively, PICA wrested back control.

Then we had the sad farce of the organisation representing the photography industry having some kind of identity and self-esteem issues. It still represents the photo industry but now it doesn’t have the word ‘photo’ in its name. Something odd about an industry which is in denial about what it is.

Then the whole wasteful nonsense of recruiting an extremely expensive executive who had never organised a big event in her life and knew nothing about the photo industry, and not much about Australia. Then tasking her with turning a well-organised annual photo show into some kind of mini-CES, requiring the recruitment of all the biggest names in the CE industry to succeed. (Say ‘convergence’ five times a day and everything will be fine’.)

All this has burned through PICA-now-IDEA’s cash so there’s little in the kitty for market research, or promotional campaigns, or maybe even for a new executive director. And that’s the sad thing – the opportunity cost of wasting that cash. There was over a million in the bank before the Singson fiasco and now its gone it can’t be used to do what IDEA’s constitution says it should be doing – promoting and educating.

On the other hand, nothing has been broken, thanks largely to the stirling efforts of Rob Gatto, James Murray and Marc Radatt in pulling this last show together under difficult circumstances. There’s a chance that now we’ve come to our ‘Can’t we all just get along’ moment, working together becomes a reality rather than a platitude.

Right now, there is little value in the annual show for retailers. It’s value in the past has been as a trade exhibition at which to conduct business, and in the money it makes for the industry, which should in theory be used to further promote the industry – everyone wins. Combined with the annual PMA convention, retailers in good numbers considered it worthwhile attending. For exhibitors it’s always been an expensive project, with companies participating as much due to competitive and even peer group pressures as the almost impossible-to-measure return on investment.

For the show not to splutter out in the next year or two, there has to be something in it for all parties. For exhibitors (and consumers), this means selling from the stands to help cover the huge costs. That genie isn’t going back into the bottle. Given retailer backing is also essential, this should be with some kind of retailer involvement. Canon’s ‘stack em high and sell em low’ approach at the show was just unseemly. (Is ‘unleaderly’ a word?)

Most consumer shows are big bazaars these days. You pay to get in on the expectation of walking out with some bargains to amortise the entrance fee. So why not pre-registration for $10 exclusively from pa rticipating retailers, or $25 at the door? The retailers keep the $10, or use it as a sweetener across the counter. Give them some skin in the game.
A trade exhibition component has to come back to bring retailers back, and thus give the convention half a chance of survival. Trade-only exhibitors shouldn’t have to spend most of their annual marketing budget to participate.

Costs have to come down so the whole project generates actual income. As a break-even exercise, it has no future. This might mean seeking alternative venues. We’ve established that it’s mainly enthusiasts, semi-pros and pros who are keen to attend, rather than a vague ‘digital lifestyler’ demographic we’ve been chasing in the immediate past. The capital city exhibition halls aren’t the only alternatives, but they are far and away the most expensive. I think the quality of consumer the show can attract will be willing to both pay a modest entry fee, and travel a few kilometres from the CBD to attend.
Here ‘s to new beginnings!
Keith Shipton

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